My fingers tap on the typewriter keys – a staccato clattering like a spastic with a tommy gun, in perfect cadence with my stuttering thoughts. There it all is – a symphony made out of the slow start building into a crescendo as I feel clarity and then the pregnant pause as my mind lulls.
Blah Blah Blah!
Well, I could’ve just written, “I’m typing as I think.” Somehow couldn’t resist the temptation for “Purple Prose”. When I started writing comic books, my first break was INDIA AUTHENTIC, a retelling of Indian myths and legends preceded by a foreword from Deepak Chopra (yes, THE Deepak Chopra). Given the subject matter and Deepak’s reputation, my first few issues I veered towards high and haughty sounding words and phrases. The pieces were caption heavy and I tried my best to make sure they sounded lofty.
During that time I had the good fortune of working with Ron Marz (GREEN LANTERN, WITCHBLADE, SAMURAI : HEAVEN & EARTH) and as I’ve mentioned before I learned a lot about the craft. Ron is a great believer in K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). One of my titles that he edited was THE SADHU, about a British soldier in colonial India in the 19th century who has a spiritual awakening and becomes a mystic warrior. My story took James Jensen, the protagonist beyond the realms of the physical on a journey that eventually ended within himself. I used James as the narrator of the series and my first draft carried on the style of my first few INDIA AUTHENTIC books and I thought myself to be the Cat’s Pajamas.
But after a few discussions with Ron on the first draft, I realized that I was actually making a title that was kind of alien to the American reader in the first place, further obtuse by my purple prose. Obscurity is often mistaken as profundity in this world of ours, and frequently dropping words like Karma, Dharma, Cosmic Synergy does not equate a tale well told.
Less is always more. A comic book in particular has the assist of the visual storytelling of the artist, so the writer can counterpoint that by using simpler language that don’t cause the reader pause breaking his suspension of disbelief. Simple doesn’t equate to flat storytelling. Hemingway wrote magnificent works of literature and perhaps the best display of dialogue based narrative. He rarely used the so-called Million Dollar Words. His language was simple, accessible and had a cadence of its own. Elmer Leonard’s novels and the narrative techniques he uses are based on simple building blocks, yet he crafts a masterful body of work from those ingredients.
In comic books, perhaps the best example of simple language creating an unforgettable mental image is the opening of ALL STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison (DC). We’ve been told the origin of Superman so many times in different media, but Morrison is downright majestic in the way he uses four simple phrases to sum up eight plus decades of mythos. (picture below)
“Doomed planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.”
Try and beat that!
Till we meet again,
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing – aka Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle – http://www.kabedford.com/archives/000013.html
Repost from my previous Nine Panel Grid column at Comics Waiting Room.